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Anti-normalization, BDS, peace and justice

Increasingly the realities of the BDS campaign are being ground into the daily life of Jewish students on campuses.

June 8, 2015 22:27
Boycott Israel sign

Boycott Israel sign. (photo credit: REUTERS)

‘It is helpful to think of normalization as a ‘colonization of the mind,’ whereby the oppressed subject comes to believe that the oppressor’s reality is the only ‘normal’ reality that must be subscribed to, and that the oppression is a fact of life that must be coped with.” This was written in an article from October 2011 entitled; “Israel’s Exceptionalism: Normalizing the Abnormal,” on the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) website.

There was a time before the Madrid-Oslo peace process when it was illegal for Israelis to speak with Palestinians.

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Today it is considered immoral for Palestinians to speak with Israelis. The international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign was begun by Palestinian civil society on July 9, 2005.

Increasingly the realities of the BDS campaign are being ground into the daily life of Jewish students on campuses some 8,000 miles away in California, the priorities of Christian denominations such as the Methodists and the Protestants, the goals of the Jewish Agency; “Campuses are flooded with Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions,” Sharansky’ JPost and pundits like Bradley Burston; “BDS must spell out what it wants from Israel,” Haaretz and Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man; “BDS is not a Zionist movement.” +972.

I began to focus on “the situation” some 20 years ago with the death of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995. I sat in my friend Abraham’s living room with some other friends from synagogue and mouthed prayers for peace. By March 2000 I had studied the conflict enough to bring Israeli consul-general Dan Ashbel and PLO deputy chief representative Khalil Foutah to our Little Shul By the River for a panel discussion on the status of the peace process as part of “An Educational Forum For Peace & Understanding.”

A year later I made my first trip to Israel/Palestine as part of the MidEast Citizen Diplomacy Delegation led by Leah Green. We traveled to Jerusalem where we met a young Israeli MK named Yuval Steinitz. Then we went on to Bethlehem, to Hebron and north to the Galilee and the Arrabe village, where we sat in the home of Hassan Asleh, who had lost his 17-year-old son Asel (a Seeds of Peace alum) on October 2, 2000, at the beginning of the second intifada. Hassan told us the story of his son’s murder during a demonstration in the village and then added this postscript: “I feel angry. But there is no choice. Peace must be here.

We must give our best time and best money and best children maybe, to reach this. I feel Asel and his friends are not the last victims here. We will try to stop the problems here in Israel. We need help from the outside. Don’t be sorry, just do something!” Most of what I have tried to do involves writing and speaking to bring information on the conflict and its solution to a larger audience. In 2008 I put together the Delaware Valley Interfaith Delegation to Israel/Palestine involving Muslim, Christian and Jewish clergy and lay leaders in a journey led once again by my friend Leah Green, who is director of the Compassionate Listening Project. We sat with peacemakers, politicians, religious and community leaders and victims on both sides who struggled in the aftermath of losing family to this seemingly endless war of attrition.

We sat down one evening in the Old City with Sheikh Buchari and his friend Eliyahu McLean, who I had met many times and who is a founder of the Jerusalem Peacemakers and of the annual Jerusalem Hug just held for the 9th time on May 28, 2015. This year the Jerusalem Hug event was interrupted by some young anti-normalization thugs who attacked the peacemakers and managed to bloody a Jerusalem Post editor.

It is all about a question that goes beyond making peace to the issue of resisting an injustice that goes all the way back to 1948 by challenging the definition of the winner of the War of Independence with a more fitting term for the loser; al Nakba; “the Catastrophe.”

Some 700,000 Palestinians were upended from their land, including many that left at the point of a gun and hundreds of Palestinian villages that were replaced by Jewish settlements, parks and land that fell under the control of the Jewish National Fund.

There is a feeling on the part of many Israelis that the second intifada and the aftermath of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza took peace off the table. There is a feeling on the part of many Palestinians that the Oslo process is no longer feasible. That Palestinians living in Palestine in 1948 were forced to leave and must be granted a right of return to realize justice as the solution to this essential Middle Eastern dilemma. Beyond Oslo is an international BDS bandwagon that is remaking the principals in the conflict from David and Goliath into an asymmetrical battle in which Palestinian citizens of the West Bank, east Jerusalem, Gaza and the Palestinian Diaspora are the victims of an increasingly destructive system of military occupation.

The issue of the correctness of the label is secondary to its ability to obliterate the peace process by establishing a next generation of Israeli resistance that must fight against its delegitimization instead of in favor of peace. It has been and remains my belief that peace can only come when both peoples recognize and prioritize its value once again. This will only happen if the international community sponsors a national dialogue for peace that supersedes its own internationalization of the conflict and its subsequent non-resolution. This dialogue will gradually replace resistance on each side with understanding, acceptance and eventual reconciliation paving both a political and societal path to a peace that accommodates justice.

The author is president of ICMEP, the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, an NGO based in suburban Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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